THEY GET IT
Kenny Mayne, layoff victim — Unlike Albert Pujols, Mayne still maintained an effective slash line when ESPN designated him for assignment. Rather than take a significant pay cut partly necessitated by Disney’s new rights deals — including the NFL at $2.7 billion a year — Mayne politely told Bristol to take the job and shove it. I’ll say what everyone else is thinking: Just because one is white, male and of a certain age doesn’t mean an all-time character should be insulted and sacrificed. Couldn’t this popular personality have been eased out with, say, a three-year victory tour? Mayne refused to stoop as low as his employer of 27 years, maintaining a deliciously dry wit to the cruel end. “I am leaving ESPN. Salary cap casualty,’’ he tweeted, thanking retired executives who originally gambled on him. “I will miss the people. I will miss the vending machine set up over by the old Van Pelt joint. We had everything.’’ He pulled off the impossible as a “SportsCenter’’ anchor, planting his tongue into his cheek without impeding the daily digest of news. Some younger on-air colleagues look goofy when they wear sneakers with suits, but at 61, “the Mayne Event’’ wore the kicks well. I just wonder who’ll be the next “salary cap casualties.’’
Wayne Gretzky, lucky man — Known as The Great One on the ice, Gretzky is closer to The Grate One behind a microphone. That didn’t stop TNT and ESPN from waging a spirited bidding battle for the hockey legend, who was dangled between the NHL’s newly anointed broadcast partners by his savvy Hollywood reps at Endeavor. TNT is expected to win (lose) his services at a reported $5 million annually, which was too much for ESPN. Isn’t that a steep price for a nice gentleman who never has uttered a cross word about anyone? As Cathal Kelly wrote up North in the Globe and Mail: “As Canadians, we know better. Everybody loves Wayne Gretzky. There’s a very specific clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that addresses this point. But we know that Gretzky is no great talker or raconteur. Whether he is capable of telling an even mildly amusing anecdote is still up for grabs because despite being the most beloved figure in the country for more than 40 years, he has yet to do so. If hockey players are dull … it’s because Gretzky taught them to be that way. Smile and nod. Smile and nod. It’s nearly impossible to criticize someone when they’re smiling and nodding.’’ Analyst Eddie Olczyk will join play-by-play man Kenny Albert in TNT’s booth, while ESPN counters with analysts Ray Ferraro and Brian Boucher. None is remotely in Gretzky’s starpower range, but once the puck is dropped, sharp analysis is vital. The Great/Grate One gets the riches anyway. Maybe the networks should be talking to Paulina Gretzky, his social-media-soaked daughter.
Greg Gumbel, CBS — I remember being asked to do stupid stuff on TV, such as dressing up like Steve Bartman, Ozzie Guillen and Kate Hudson (don’t ask) for Halloween shows. To his everlasting credit, Gumbel refused to jump into the silly fray when asked by network producers during March Madness. While studio mates Clark Kellogg, Seth Davis and Wally Szczerbiak lost all dignity while dancing with six animated characters, Gumbel just stared in shock and embarrassment. Appearing on a WCKG podcast in his native Chicago, a city made proud by Greg and brother Bryant, he said of his mortified reaction that day, “I have tried really hard throughout my career not to look like an idiot on TV. I have tried very hard not to embarrass my loved ones, my friends and myself. And I’m not going to (dance). But at the same time, I wasn’t going to let them get away without being poked about it. So that’s why I did what I did. … It was fun. I will only go so far.” Not enough is made in the sports world of the Gumbel dynasty. Outlasting critics who’ve chided Bryant as bombastic and Greg as rigid, they’ll be remembered as the most successful set of brothers in sportscasting history.
Todd Frazier, social media retaliator — If his major-league career is over, at least the baseball vagabond reminded a media member of his amateur-hour lot in life. When Frazier was cut by the Pittsburgh Pirates, a glorified Triple-A club these days, local radio host Mark Madden harpooned him directly on social media, which defies every rule of professionalism. “Hey, @FlavaFraz21 …happy f—ing trails, you scrub. DFA’d. Now GFY,” tweeted Madden, telling Frazier to go f— himself. He can tend to the rest of his life later, but first, Frazier had a retort for Madden: “Funny that this slob, I mean absolute slob is talking shit. Go grab another hot dog. Please look yourself in the mirror my goodness. You wouldn’t dare say this to my face FLOUNDER. This picture tells it all. And to think people take you serious. GTFOH.’’ Which is short for get the f— outta here, which I’m going to do before giving these two people any more attention.
Barry Svrluga, Washington Post — It can be painful reading tributes to retiring sportswriters from other sportswriters, but Svrluga’s admiration for Thomas Boswell came through in a masterpiece testimonial. “If my 14-year-old self believed he could share one press box for one night with Boz, that would have been enough, a dream fulfilled,’’ he wrote. “To have shared … how many, Boz? Hundreds, right? RFK and Nationals Park, Congressional Country Club and Augusta National, FedEx Field and Capital One Arena, the Stanley Cup and the World Series. Shoot, we even climbed the Great Wall of China together. Tell my 14-year-old self that was the career ahead — riding shotgun to Boz for close to 18 years, watching how the best to ever do it got it done — and he wouldn’t have made it to 15, what with the ensuing heart attack and all. It is the great honor and privilege of my career to have shared those spaces and had those conversations with Boz. He was and is who I want to be when I grow up.’’ Boswell, the consummate baseball wordsmith of his generation, is leaving his hometown paper after 52 years. What I liked about him: While Post mates Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser became TV stars, Boswell stayed true to the press box, once telling Svrluga to buy a 300-foot tape measure when they suspected incorrect outfield measurements at old RFK Stadium. “I ran past (Boswell) to measure the distance to the wall, the quickest way to work before we got caught and kicked out. Which we did — but not before we had enough data for a front-page story,’’ he wrote. Much as Svrluga will try, there never will be another Thomas Boswell.
Ben Strauss, Washington Post — In a recent column, I asked why major publications hadn’t profiled the oddball coupling of John Skipper and Dan Le Batard, the deposed ESPN power losers. Strauss delivered, pointing out how the ex-journalists have sold out to the legal gambling craze — their company, Meadowlark Media, is receiving $50 million from DraftKings for Le Batard’s podcast — while portraying Skipper as an eccentric. Wrote Strauss: “Skipper was wearing a maroon sweater, circle-rimmed glasses and khakis rolled up to reveal blue suede shoes, his apartment’s floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of the Hudson River. He was sprawled in front of a coffee table designed, Skipper pointed out, by French painter Yves Klein. The tabletop was a clear acrylic box filled with mounds of raw pigment.’’ Skipper almost went off the rails when speaking of his competition with Barstool Sports and its raunchy front man, Dave Portnoy. “Barstool is driving value. I don’t think it means you have to do reprehensible, misogynist content,’’ Skipper said. “If somebody came to me and said: `I’ll give you a really high margin; you’ve got to do a show on the sexiest pictures of cheerleaders you can find. Can you find pictures of cheerleaders where they jump up and down and their panties are up in their butts? Can you find that for me? I’ll pay you a bunch of money.’ The answer’s no, I won’t do that.” Um, their panties are up in their butts? Sounds like Skipper was channeling Portnoy. I know, Strauss is the sixth who gets it. A friend said I should change the title to “Those Who Get It.’’ I’m considering it.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Tim Tebow, ESPN — Who doesn’t love his heart and propensity to dream? But at some point, going on 34, Tebow risks becoming a multi-sport freak show. After failing as an NFL quarterback and crashing as a baseball minor-leaguer, he wants to sign a one-year deal with his college coach, Urban Meyer, and his hometown NFL team, the DUVVALLL!!! (Jacksonville) Jaguars. It’s a whim opposed by many in the front office, which is understandable. Tebow would give tight end a try as a way of generating more interest in the Jags, but he never has played the position and hasn’t been in football pads in six years. ESPN has been patient with his whims, yet at some point, Tebow must decide if he wants to work full-time as an SEC Network analyst or move on to politics or even Sunday morning evangelism. Meyer may have purchased a house on Tebow’s street, but knowing the coach’s thirst for the competitive jugular, he’ll cut Tebow quicker than a Florida Gator chomp. Why must I be the one to tell him that this is another publicity stunt?
Alex Rodriguez, loser — As ex-squeeze Jennifer Lopez frolics in Montana with Ben Affleck, A-Rod and partner Marc Lore have let a deadline pass to purchase the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Seems team owner Glen Taylor doesn’t trust Rodriguez’s possible motives — would you? — in possibly moving the Wolves to Seattle, where A-Rod once played as a young shortstop before his steroids days. With his life is disarray, he might want to laser-focus on his broadcast duties on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,’’ where, if you close your eyes, you might wonder about the thin, Captain Obvious insight if the analyst wasn’t a famous ex-player.
Adam Schefter, ESPN — Look, his bosses admitted before the NFL Draft that they wanted bigger ratings than the NFL Network, even if the league controls the multi-platform broadcast under one Goodellian umbrella. So when Schefter claims it’s pure coincidence that he waited until Draft day to break the Aaron Rodgers-wants-out-of-Green Bay story, he’s insulting our intelligence. He said the timing of his scoop resulted from “an accumulation’’ of whispers he’d been hearing for weeks. “There was nothing that morning that came in.’’ he told Dan Patrick. “No one said to me, `Yeah, he wants out; you should report this.’ It’s like, it was going on all offseason. You just keep hearing and there’s more and more talk, and now there’s starting to be Aaron Rodgers talk, and I said, ‘You know what? This isn’t gonna wait much longer.’ It just happened to be Draft day.’’ Yeah, he just happened to wait until millions were watching him lead the Draft broadcast with a story that dominated the night, which helped ESPN beat the NFL Network (and sister network ABC). I want to trust Schefter. He and his network keep giving me reasons not to.
Hulu — The danger of docuseries fever is that every subject wants to control the narrative, as Michael Jordan did in “The Last Dance.’’ Which explains why Jeanie Buss, controlling owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, has appointed her own director, esteemed Antoine Fuqua, to spin out a nine-part series that will glorify the banners and legends and ignore, say, the Buss family dramas that derailed the franchise before LeBron James arrived. She could make that request of Hulu, a derivative of Disney, which is in business bed with the NBA. I will be more interested in HBO’s competing series — based on Jeff Pearlman’s book, “Three-Ring Circus’’ — that peels open the Hollywood and sex-romp secrets that were undeniably part of the team’s “Showtime’’ past, much of it involving the late owner Jerry Buss, Jeanie’s father. She says her production will tell “the true story of the Lakers,’’ adding during an “All The Smoke’’ video podcast, “There is a series being developed at HBO — a scripted series we are not involved in — and I really don’t know how they’re going to tell our story if we’re not involved in it.” Simple. HBO will tell the unauthorized version, while Buss and Fuqua craft the scrubbed, Disney-fied version that we already know about. The HBO show, developed by Adam McKay, will draw more attention and bigger ratings.
Lachlan Murdoch, Fox Corporation CEO — Just because a C-Suite honcho says something in an investors’ call doesn’t mean it’s true. In announcing Fox’s acquisition of Outkick, Murdoch described the site as a leader “in sports news, and more critically, sports opinion.’’ As one who has been immersed in sports multimedia for decades, I can state definitively that Outkick is not a leader in sports news or sports opinion — not even close — and that it appeals only to a conservative, woke-averse crowd that fits the leaning agenda of Fox News. It’s a mistake to think the Clay Travis cult mobs know or care about quality sports journalism. Case in point: When veteran football writer Peter King pointed out the number of COVID-related deaths on Twitter, he was mocked by an Outkick blogger, while site founder Travis was delighting in a full house at an Atlanta Braves game. Trumpers can unite on Murdoch’s new site. The rest of America will be looking for credible sports news and commentary elsewhere.
Spectrum SportsNet LA — The Los Angeles Dodgers are worth $3.6 billion. The least they can do is serve their television viewers, the ones they largely blacked out for years, by not scheduling events in Dodger Stadium while the team broadcasters are calling away games remotely from the press box. As the Dodgers — “the greatest team in baseball history,’’ according to the since-backpedaling L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke — were struggling in Chicago, viewers and radio listeners could hear Mayor Eric Garcetti’s speech during the local Fire Department awards banquet. With all due gratitude for fire fighters everywhere, let’s figure out a better way for fans who devote time and money — Spectrum SportsNet isn’t cheap — to follow their team.
Chris Webber, Dead Analyst Walking — Here we thought Webber never would do anything dumber than his fatal time-out signal in 1993, when Michigan had no timeouts remaining late in a national title game. Little did we know. Taking the opposite path of Fab Five teammate Jalen Rose, whose career as an ESPN analyst is thriving, Webber is costing himself a prized gig that could have taken him into old age. He upset his TNT bosses when he left them hanging before opting out of an NCAA tournament assignment, saying he didn’t want to work in the Indianapolis Bubble, according to the New York Post. Not enamored of him as it is, the network is expected to oust Webber from its leading NBA broadcast team and not renew his contract. With play-by-play man Marv Albert officially an octogenarian, TNT must remake a crew that already has fallen far behind the impact and chemistry of ESPN’s Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. Oh, was this a seventh entry in They Don’t Get It?
Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t
A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from burner accounts of media people.
THEY GET IT
Anti-Olympics disruptors — Let them protest. Let them rally and chant outside Japan Olympic Committee headquarters. Let them rage when Thomas Bach, head of the International Olympic Committee, arrives at his hotel. As one who has covered 14 Games, I fear the Tokyo version will be a COVID-19-marred debacle, a ruthless money grab for the alphabet-soup boys at the IOC and NBC. Only continued pressure from the Japanese people, who’ve dealt with a tsunami and a nuclear disaster, can stop the corporate invasion now that IOC member Dick Pound has said the Games are happening even if Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga tries to cancel them. If so, Planet Earth should cover its eyes. The mood will be limp, with spectators from other countries banned and no certainty that locals will occupy venue seats, and if you expect the usual joyous global festival, you must be … an NBC executive. The network is shunning optics — and making America look greedy and cold — by ignoring Japan’s dire health condition, breathlessly issuing media releases detailing 7,000 hours of coverage across various platforms. “We are going to deliver the most comprehensive — and accessible — coverage for any sports event in history,” trumpeted Molly Solomon, executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production. “The depth and breadth of our broadcasts will be unprecedented, showcasing once-in-a-generation athletes and story lines capturing the incredible uniqueness of these Games and our times.” In truth, this is the most dangerous, insensitive and grotesque Olympiad ever staged, but don’t expect host Mike Tirico to do much more than smile and read his teleprompter. Let them riot, if necessary.
Ariel Helwani, ESPN bird-flipper — Though it would have been fun watching him torment Dana White, the ongoing war wouldn’t be such a hoot for Helwani. He just wants to do good work, after all, and he was smart to reject an ESPN pay cut and pursue other opportunities as a UFC commentator and multimedia journalist. Pay cuts are the new way of life in Bristol, always a wonderful morale booster, but his departure cuts deeper: ESPN has little or no interest in journalism, especially when it might threaten a bedfellow partner. As long as White and UFC have a $1.5 billion rights deal with ESPN, Helwani never was going to report sensitive news independently — network bosses always follow the money, no matter how smarmy White and his death sport might be. And the lowball sent a lukewarm message that Bristol didn’t care if Helwani stayed — and probably was relieved that he left, so as to appease its business buddy. He held up well when White was calling him a “douche” and, according to Helwani, once telling him “my career was over and a bullet would be put in my head.” ESPN semi-supported him in tense White situations, but who knows if the network’s conversations with the bald bully were wink-wink and two-faced? Helwani took the high road and thanked Bristol for the opportunity, but added, tellingly, “I’d be lying if I said I got there and thought that I would leave three years later, but this is a crazy world and a crazy business. And once I was given the opportunity to look at what else was out there, I found a lot of things that really got me excited.” A lesson I learned long ago: You’re best off leaving a media operation when your bosses are in business bed with the people you’re trying to cover. Question: If White actually said “a bullet would be put in (Helwani’s) head,” shouldn’t the authorities be investigating?
TJ Olsen, fighter — Someday, when his father is deep into his career as a premier NFL analyst, TJ will remember the year when a heart donor stepped forward and made a transplant possible. Greg Olsen and his wife, Kara, have pledged millions to the children’s facility in Charlotte where TJ received his new heart. Their good deeds and prayers were rewarded. “Hi, everybody,” the 8-year-old said in a video posted by his father. “Thank you for thinking of me. Thank you for praying with me. We love you guys, bye.” Fox Sports projects an enormous future for Olsen, possibly as Troy Aikman’s heir apparent on the top broadcast team. This warm story only will endear him to the masses.
Jane McManus, veteran journalist — Whether you think Naomi Osaka’s media boycott is a cry for emotional help or a Generation Z power play (my take), this cannot be disputed: An athlete’s raw response immediately after a competition helps the public gain an understanding of that person. If Osaka wants the masses on her side as she chases tennis eminence and riches, she should hear out McManus, who wrote, “You get an authentic reaction from people. It’s right after something has happened. They’re not manicuring it. Their publicist isn’t writing it up for their social media account. It is right in the wake of what has happened.” The lazy media reaction is to empathize with Osaka in what she is calling a “mental health” concern. The flap goes much deeper when you consider Osaka, in her only French Open match before going home, was quite cheerful in a post-victory chat with WOWOW, a network based in her native Japan, which — WOW! — pays her for interviews.
Baseball writers — A sport that can’t afford more problems — games too long, action too limited, balls too gooey, fewer hits than Donald Trump’s blog, no signs of labor peace — realized it can’t push back against media access. Led by Cincinnati-based president Trent Rosecrans, the Baseball Writers Association of America convinced Major League Baseball to let vaccinated media members conduct pre-game, one-on-one interviews. As expected, the NFL will use the pandemic to reduce media access for the foreseeable future, which is bad news for sites striving to cover sports independently and not under the controlling umbrellas of Big Sports. Tweeted baseball writer Lindsey Adler of The Athletic: “Would also like to thank those with the league and players’ association who recognized the value of in-person access. This is a big win for baseball fans.” Who knew MLB ever would get something right? I guess desperation moves boulders.
Jason Whitlock, right-wing ding-dong — Whitlock is our extra Sixth Who Gets It because he has figured out — finally — what he does best after all these wayward years. He wasn’t a sports columnist. He wasn’t a sports TV host. No, he’s a conservative who appeals only to those who share his views about politics and race. He isn’t open-minded or versatile enough to reach the masses, so he’ll join hands with Glenn Beck and conservative outlet Blaze Media for a podcast and writing vertical. This will be all propaganda and no journalism, but after breakdowns at ESPN and Fox Sports, at least he knows who he is and what he does.
THEY DON’T GET IT
ESPN — As The Worldwide Leader In Disciplinary Double Standards, Bristol finds itself in yet another hypocritical mess. It’s understandable why betting analyst Kelly Stewart was fired last week, as reported by Front Office Sports, for her series of since-deleted anti-gay tweets in 2012 — such as: “yeah but today my timeline is full of fags trying to say I’m fake.” But if Stewart’s slurs rise to the level of dismissal when she wasn’t employed by ESPN at the time, please explain why Woody Paige remains an “Around The Horn” contributor after being accused by a 24-year-old editorial assistant of calling her a “cunt” when he was executive sports editor of the Denver Post. As mentioned here recently, in my observations about retroactive cancellation, Carrie Ludicke received $25,000 in a confidential settlement after her sexual harassment complaint while Paige, though denying ever using the word, lost his position but kept his salary and column. The American Journalism Review reported the story in detail. Though I enjoyed my time sparring with Paige on “ATH,” ESPN is vulnerable to legal action — and a swelling of shame — when it fires a new female employee for a long-ago misdeed but continues to employ a 74-year-old white male in a similar situation. Full disclosure: I’ve had my own experience with ESPN double standards — see my column on the veteran writer and commentator, Howard Bryant, published on this site last July 15 — and with cancel culture in full and disturbing bloom, Corporate America must be more meticulous when making decisions that impact careers and lives. The lawyers are rustling.
Major League Baseball — Now THIS is the MLB I know and don’t trust. Rob Manfred, who has allowed pitchers to cheat for years after allowing teams to electronically steal signs for years, has cut a content deal with the grubby Action Network. That means betting experts will be all over MLB’s digital outlets … as Pete Rose remains banned for life due to his 1980s gambling indiscretions. Manfred is the worst commissioner in the modern history of American sports, and now that media are allowed one-on-one interviews, he should be asked immediately about the hypocrisy of Rose. Maybe Pete can join the Action Network and talk about baseball prop bets.
Jay Williams, ESPN — Kevin Durant is a very angry man, especially when the topic is TV and talking heads. So unless a personality has a recording of something Durant might have said to him, it’s best he not tell a story publicly and leave himself vulnerable to KD’s wrath. Once upon a time at a club, after suggesting on a show that Giannis Antetokounmpo was a hybrid of Durant and Anthony Davis, Williams said Durant approached him. “(He) says, `Yo, don’t you ever compare me to Giannis again. Don’t you ever do that again.’ And I was like, `Kev, what’re you talking about? Calm down. First off, I’m talking about scenarios, stylistically, the way you guys play a little bit, size, length.’ ” Not long after Williams told the tale on “Get Up,’’ an enraged Durant wrote on Instagram, “This is a F***in lie. Jay Williams can NEVER speak for me, ever.’’ Then he tweeted, “Mans will do anything to advance their careers in this media shit, wanting to be accepted by an industry that will dispose of you whenever they please. Keep me out all that corny ass talk about who’s better and legacy and all that dumb ass shit. I don’t even talk like that.” Before you say Durant is absurdly oversensitive and should get off social media — which is true — consider the politics of how he’s faring on the court. His comeback has been powerful as the Nets, his superteam creation, cruise toward the NBA Finals. That means he holds the power of perception leverage, forcing Williams, whose NBA career was a disappointment, to defend his credibility. Also bruised today: TNT’s Jared Greenberg, whose gushy question about Durant’s recovery from a devastating Achilles rupture was greeted by a mean glare. “Is that a real question? What do you want me to say to that?” Durant fired back. If the Nets win the NBA Finals, the next six weeks aren’t going to be so much fun for media and basketball fans.
Charles Barkley, TNT — Doc Rivers, among the prominent Black coaches of his time, “parted ways” with the Clippers last fall. I could cite other examples of NBA teams that softened the public blow when releasing Black coaches, but it’s impossible to jackhammer through the hard head of Barkley, who said this after announcements that Terry Stotts and Steve Clifford — both White — left gigs in moves described as a mutual parting of ways: “In America, that means they were white. They fire brothers; they don’t part ways.” I want to hear Barkley if Chauncey Billups, who is Black and hasn’t been a head coach on any level, gets the Portland job over Jeff Van Gundy, whose coaching and broadcast resume speaks for itself. Sometimes, in his perpetual zeal to be outspoken, Barkley is his worst enemy. Think and research first, then fire.
Bally Sports Arizona — Any world striving for racial equality can’t excuse Barkley for his aforementioned comment, then beat up on Diamondbacks TV analyst Bob Brenly. Yes, Brenly was wrong to insensitively refer to pitcher Marcus Stroman’s head covering as a “do-rag” — “Pretty sure that’s the same do-rag that Tom Seaver used to wear when he pitched for the Mets,” he said, in a reckless attempt at humor. Yet why is Barkley allowed to use race in his wry remarks and avoid corporate reprimands every time he makes an insensitive crack, which is about once a half-hour? Urged by Bally Sports to undergo sensitivity training, Brenly took a voluntary leave of absence and said in a statement, “I want to apologize again for my insensitive reference, as it does not reflect my values or who I am. … I have decided to take some time off to listen, reflect and devote my attention to awareness training related to diversity and inclusion to enhance my understanding and appreciation of others. I plan to return to the booth next homestand, hopefully a better person.” An on-air apology would have sufficed.
Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times — Sis Boom Bill is at it again. Blowing in extremes like a Santa Ana wind, Plaschke now is predicting the hometown Clippers are headed to a Western Conference title — “This Game 7 brilliance was the win,” he wrote Sunday, “that will eventually catapult them into the NBA Finals.” The problem here: Just a week earlier, he was writing how the “Clipper Curse” soon would doom L.A.’s basketball orphans (“The Clipper Curse has never held such power. The Clipper Curse has never been so perilous,” he penned). Which came as his original forecast for the Lakers was bombing out — “As long as the Lakers have a healthy LeBron James, they are headed directly toward a second consecutive NBA championship,” he wrote — and as the Dodgers were sputtering on his outrageously giddy prediction that they’ll be “the greatest team in baseball history.” In 2020, Plaschke was this column’s “Badass Of The Year” for surviving a wicked coronavirus battle to produce exemplary column work during the championship runs of the Lakers and Dodgers. This year, the Plaschke Curse has never held such power. The Plaschke Curse has never been so perilous. Wasn’t planning on a Sixth Who Doesn’t Get It, but Sis Boom Bill needs to recalibrate his column compass.
Steve Warmbir, Chicago Sun-Times — After my recent piece on the demise of local news — titled, “Once The Heartbeat Of Newspapers, Chicago Is Death Row” — two readers wondered specifically how far circulation has plunged in that city. So I e-mailed the interim editor-in-chief, Warmbir, and asked him to clarify the current readership numbers. To quote Phil Collins, “There’s no reply at all.” I e-mailed him again. To channel Simon and Garfunkel, “Silence like a cancer grows.” Hmmm. If a newsroom leader ran from a potential advertiser who requests those numbers, that money wisely would be spent elsewhere. Death Row, indeed. Wasn’t planning on a Seventh Who Doesn’t Get It, but I’m trying to save Chicago from itself.
5 Who Get It, 5 Who Don’t
A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives tweets from the burner accounts of media people.
THEY GET IT
Jeff Passan, ESPN — Oh, to witness the mastery of a traditional baseball reporter who uses the written word — and a visual medium — to tell the most powerful sports story of 2021. Still undefined in its journalistic mission while groveling to league partners, Bristol should identify Passan’s portrait of Drew Robinson as a blueprint for multimedia brilliance. As it was, his print piece about the outfielder’s suicide attempt last year was chilling, almost beyond belief. “At about 8 p.m., in one uninterrupted motion,” he wrote, “he leaned to the side, reached out to the coffee table, lifted the gun, pressed it against his right temple and pulled the trigger. This was supposed to be the end of Drew Robinson’s story.” It wasn’t, somehow, even after the bullet tore holes into the right and left sides of his head. Miraculously given new life with only one eye, Robinson is attempting a comeback with the Triple-A Sacramento Rivercats. Passan teamed with acclaimed director Martin Khodabakhshian to chronicle the story in an E60 documentary, “Alive: The Drew Robinson Story,” which premiered with an open end: Will Robinson be an inspiration to millions when he is called up by the San Francisco Giants — or will he succumb again to his depression? For decades, ESPN has hired journalists and force-fed them onto TV with varying results. Passan is the rare find who writes exceptionally AND translates to screen projects.
David Zaslav, media mogul — With Sir Bob Iger gradually nudged toward emeritus status, Disney has a new challenger in the streaming wars. Team Mouse has met the potential enemy in Zaslav, who inherits massive industry power as the lead dog in WarnerMedia’s merger with Discovery Inc. Among other volcanic implications, he’s an admirer of live sports, which could turn a division led by TNT and TBS into a bigger global content force. A longtime pal of Jeff Zucker, the CNN boss who also heads WarnerMedia’s sports interests, Zaslav already is framing his vision with a direct mission statement: “We think one of the true differentiators of the future is live news, live sports.” With a new NHL rights deal added to a roster that includes the NBA, Major League Baseball and March Madness, well, let’s just say company founder Ted Turner is watching it all from one of his ranches and saying, “Hot Damn.” Meanwhile, AT&T should stick to developing more reliable 5G, having flopped in its quest to conquer Hollywood and now frantically offloading media assets. I’ll be really impressed if Zaslav orders Charles Barkley to stop his fat jokes about women.
Jalen Rose, ESPN — He easily could have handed off the assignment to a colleague, avoiding the tension of a feud that dates to the mid-‘90s. Admirably, Rose took a blowtorch to the iceberg, welcoming Chris Webber to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame while some of us wondered if Webber was even worthy. “I love you, my brother. Congratulations,” Rose said. “You made it to the Hall of Fame, brother. Well-deserved.” Their Fab Five breakthrough at Michigan deteriorated into hard feelings over trademarks and Webber’s link to booster Ed Martin, which forced the program to vacate victories and led to the removal of Final Four banners from the campus arena. It seemed unlikely they ever would speak again, particularly as Rose thrives in his media career while Webber was fired last week from his lead NBA analyst gig at TNT. Rose, whose mother died from lung cancer in February, was the bigger man. “Jalen Anthony Rose, it’s crazy, man,” replied Webber, wiping tears. “And thank God for your beautiful, wonderful mother because you know what she did for me.” I’m proud to say Rose is my former radio partner, way back when on ESPN shows in Los Angeles. Isn’t it great when adults actually can be adults?
Marv Albert, broadcasting icon — Is any voice more identifiable with a sport than Albert’s? When he barks “YESSSSS!” through a microphone, an audience sees images of basketball greats and famed arenas spanning decades. The play-by-play legend is retiring weeks from his 80th birthday, wisely announcing that the current NBA postseason will be his final sign-off, and his is a study in perseverance and corporate second chances as much as sustained excellence. In 1997, amid the massive exposure of the Jordan Era, Albert pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery, with a witness testifying that Albert bit her while he wore white panties and a garter belt during sex. NBC fired him on the spot, but TNT saved his career by making him its NBA voice. Albert didn’t let his worst moment define him because, in the end, he was too good at his job. “There is no voice more closely associated with NBA basketball than Marv Albert’s,” commissioner Adam Silver said. Someone will take over his seat — hopefully, Ian Eagle — but no one will replace his resonance.
Barry Rozner, smart man — You can’t half-ass a sports column. Either you’re fully invested in the daily grind, as so few are these days, or it’s best to exit as Rozner did after 24 years in the gig — and 37 years total — at the Daily Herald in Chicago’s northern suburbs. He writes that his “wife and girls deserve my time after so many years of putting breaking news before everything else,” but the most telling takeaway of his farewell column was this: “I would be doing the newspaper — and you — a disservice if a year or two or 10 from now I was mailing it in, waiting to have the sweater ripped off my back, going through the motions …” That describes any number of sports columnists in the industry, paycheck-pilferers who rarely speak truth to power anymore because life is easier that way. Column-writing needn’t be a dying art — with the Washington Post and Sports Illustrated still showing the way — but in an opinion corner swallowed by Big Sports and Big TV, Rozner will be among many who opt out early. At least he was honest to himself and his readers.
Front Office Sports — Remember when Camp A-Rod vowed to give its next exclusive to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who was miffed when The Athletic beat him to the original story of Alex Rodriguez’s ownership interest in the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves? Turns out Woj bombed again, as the industry site was first with the official $1.5-billion sale of the Wolves and WNBA’s Lynx to Rodriguez and Marc Lore. It’s healthy for the media business when an independent site, with no direct financial connection to sports, breaks a major story without it being hand-delivered. The Athletic credited Front Office Sports; ESPN did not, crediting its own reporter, Brian Windhorst. (Sigh.) This fulfills my ongoing streak of at least Six Who Get It. And, as seen below, Six Who Don’t Get It.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Documaniacs — So now they’ve turned storytelling into a boutique image-polishing service, wrapped around a blind ratings grab. “The Last Dance” created docuseries fever, with ESPN and other media companies rushing to produce the next killer ratings hit, though I hate to break the bad news: The Michael Jordan doc never will be approached in scope, numbers and cultural importance amid a pandemic’s early stages. ESPN claims it will “pull back the curtain” on Derek Jeter’s career, though I’m not sure much is behind that curtain. Seems Jeter wants to control his ultimate narrative in a definitive film, as Jordan did, and he’ll have the means to do just that — the six-part series is produced by the Players’ Tribune (founded by Jeter) and the shared interests of Major League Baseball and Jeter friend Spike Lee. Tom Brady will have the same power in his nine-episode ESPN docuseries, which means we’re simply giving elite athletes license to tell their own fairy tales without balance. After two decades in the global glare, what more does Serena Williams have to say? Her story is imbued in history, from her Compton childhood with sister Venus to her place as the most dominant female athlete ever, and as she nears age 40, we await her transition from competitive tennis to motherhood. Little will be gleaned from a new Serena docuseries, via Amazon, but after various films and stories have depicted her less than gracefully, she wants the last word. If iconic athletes have something new and compelling to say, wonderful. If their self-styled docs are persona-scrubbing, controversy-spinning exercises in public relations, the masses will grow tired and bored.
Sports-related websites — On my latest iPhone — not purple — I have room for countless apps. So why have I only unloaded these: ESPN, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, Sports Illustrated, The Athletic, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press and USA Today? Because too many sites, local in particular, aren’t worth my time, intelligence or paywall money. Content should be king in any circumstance, but sites generally are lacking in depth, gravitas, urgency and impartiality, with more using sports to drive gambling initiatives or political agendas. The sports radio division truly doesn’t get it, failing to cross-promote daily programming with quality columns and timely video commentaries. Why remain in business if every exposure opportunity isn’t maximized?
ESPN — How convenient of Bristol, fully immersed now in the treacherous waters of legal gambling, to have its GAMBLING WRITER author a long piece titled, “Sports betting is booming, like it or not.” As you know, I hate it and reiterated my reasons last week in my own long piece, which scolded major media companies for abandoning what is sacred about sports — the authentic competition — for a grimy alternate universe of point spreads and over-unders. When the inevitable scandals happen — assuming they aren’t as I write this — ESPN and others with heavy betting associations won’t be summoning expert investigative reporters as they once did. Nor will they probe the disease of wagering and the ever-growing number of problem gamblers in America, now that betting is as easy as the tap of a phone app. When a record $4 billion is bet with U.S. sportsbooks in March alone, investigations that serve the public interest would be kinda bad for business, wouldn’t they? A ruthless money grab is out of control, linking the media with leagues and casinos … and trouble. As I concluded, Congressional intervention is the only way to stop point-shaving and other forms of game manipulation. This obviously is a job for the Brothers Fainaru, Steve and Mark, an investigative tag-team like few others. But the only reason they’re still employed at ESPN is because they no longer pursue stories that can adversely impact the company, which, at this point, is in business bed with every league, conference and sports initiative short of Competitive Pillow Fighting, which I’m sure is next if odds can be set.
Associated Press — If nothing else, America’s news organization of record can be trusted not to degenerate into the tout gutter. Wait. OMG. The AP, too? Before the Preakness Stakes, which was complicated by the positive drug test of Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit, staff writer Tim Reynolds advised wire readers how to gamble on the race. He wrote, “Here’s what it means for bettors now: Absolutely nobody knows if past performances from Medina Spirit — the data that will be pored over time and again before people plunk cash down to bet on Saturday’s Preakness — were on an equal playing field with other horses in those races. … The smart play is to look elsewhere, and there are options.” An NBA reporter in his day job, Reynolds wrapped a top three of Midnight Bourbon, Crowded Trade and Medina Spirit, in that order. Rombauer, at 11-1, was the winner, followed by Midnight Bourbon and Medina Spirit. So he wasn’t totally clueless … but he was wrong on what mattered most. Consider it Exhibit A of why gambling companies, interested in hiring seasoned sportswriters, shouldn’t assume they know how to pick winners. It isn’t part of the traditional job description, nor is it a crossover that any self-respecting sportswriter should attempt. Worse, in a story about the NBA postseason, the AP highlighted this portion in blue on its app: “The Lakers are still the second choice to win the NBA title, according to FanDuel, behind only Brooklyn.” I don’t care what FanDuel thinks, nor should the AP.
Teddy Greenstein, PointsBet senior editor — Masquerading for 24 years as a college football, golf and media writer, with a few unmemorable columns in the mix, Greenstein now confesses he liked gambling angles as much as pure sportswriting at the Chicago Tribune. Such pretenders are best off leaving the business and heading to the creepy side, where they can dabble in odds and prop bets and let real journalists break stories and take on sports owners. In the aforementioned ESPN story, Greenstein says he has “the perfect job” — in which he “hosts PointsBet’s golf preview show, `The Range,’ with social media influencer Paige Spiranac, produces written content and potential prop offerings, entertains VIPs in Chicago and makes regular media appearances that differ in subject matter from the TV and radio spots he did while at the Tribune.” Basically, he’s a casino host. This is just right for Teddy, who didn’t always care to get his facts straight as a newspaperman, such as the day I was receiving threats in the new online comments section of the then-rival Sun-Times. The paper’s security director wanted to purge the comments; the managing editor did not. Someone in the newsroom leaked their disagreement, and, of course, Greenstein wrote that I was afraid of criticism. Next day, the Tribune invited its readers to write comments about me and promised to publish them online, which became my triumphant, Twilight Zone moment in that wacky-ass market … the competition was promoting ME? I could go on about his recklessness, but the point is, PointsBet is the ideal landing spot for one with his priorities. He went to Northwestern. Should the journalism arm be renamed the Medill School of Bookmaking?
Halls of Fame — Am I the only one uncomfortable when the NBA, or any sports league, inducts media members? It suggests a favorable relationship between the league and the media person, which shouldn’t exist if the media person is committed to professionally scrutinizing the league and not softly promoting it as an extension of the public-relations department. Imagine if the White House or your local City Hall had a Hall of Fame that included a media wing. Wouldn’t any independent reporter be embarrassed by a nomination? I cringed when Naismith Memorial Basketball HOF inductee Michael Wilbon, an outstanding columnist in his day, was introduced as “my main man” by host Ahmad Rashad, who, as we all know, is the longtime confidante of Michael Jordan and a four-decade friend of the league. Know this: Any media member who attacks a league’s leadership or a team owner even once, regardless of his or her prominence, isn’t getting into Springfield, Cooperstown or Canton. I guess it’s an effective way of separating the Real from the Rashads — Ahmad, by the way, still hasn’t been inducted.
5 Who Get It, Five Who Don’t
A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who is vaccinated but not going anywhere near an NHL arena.
THEY GET IT
Those Who Didn’t Stick To Sports — As church bells tolled in Minneapolis, near the courthouse where a killer cop was convicted, I thought of media professionals who broke free from traditional job descriptions and challenged systemic racism. Colin Kaepernick would kneel and LeBron James would tweet — and perspective quickly followed in the words of Michael Wilbon, Jerry Brewer, Stephen A. Smith, Maria Taylor, LZ Granderson and numerous sports journalists who used platforms to protest and educate. They were slammed as overly woke — at times, the commentary bordered on activism — but, in their own way, they contributed to the jury conviction of Derek Chauvin on all three counts. They can’t bring back George Floyd. They won’t stop racism. But they’ve elevated an industry too consumed these days with the legal gambling craze, no-conscience traffic clicks and survivalist desperation. Said Wilbon, the ESPN commentator: “I’m grateful to the men and women who’ve used their voices in the arena, in and around sports, to use their leverage. We talk about shining a light on something — I am relieved. This is the only just verdict, the only just outcome. I’m relieved, but I am not hopeful. Yet. Sorry.’’
Sam Amico, Outkick — Is The Athletic, the purported last-gasp savior of sportswriting, about to free-fall into a spiral of mass layoffs and dramatic strategy changes? While Outkick kingpin Clay Travis has much to gain from publishing the story, we have no reason to doubt the reporting of the reputable Amico, who quotes unidentified Athletic investors who say the pay site is “on shaky ground’’ with “subscriptions plummeting and renewal rates suffering.’’ From the start — and I was there in 2016, lunching repeatedly with founders Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann during San Francisco job discussions at the Four Seasons — The Athletic has underestimated the industry and overshot its wad, so to speak, forgoing my suggestion to hire a compact collection of well-known, high-traffic opinionists in markets with major pro and college sports. Instead, the duo blew megamillions — what happened to the $140 million in seed money? — while believing they could hire hundreds of analysts and beat writers for every conceivable league and team in a sports journalism takeover, with Mather infamously telling the New York Times in 2017, “We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing. We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.” Instead, The Athletic joined every other newspaper site and sports digital project — beyond ESPN — in a jungle where no one thrives and many won’t survive long-term. Mather misread the willingness of readers to spend $59 a year on subscriptions, which became a no-go for many during a pandemic that pummeled finances and lessened the priority of sports. Having never pursued advertising revenue, the site inevitably was going to bleed, despite the eager investments of Quicken Loans chairman/Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and venture capitalists. Mather and Hansmann came from the Silicon Valley world and didn’t understand why the American sports empire and sports media coverage must be separated. For every powerful investigative story and timely scoop, The Athletic infuriates me with content (see below) straight out of a team’s public-relations department. Not that ESPN doesn’t have similar conflict-of-interest issues with leagues, but the sheer girth of coverage on its free and paid streaming sites — breaking news, live games, analysis, TV shows, documentaries — blows away The Athletic at the same price point. If, as Amico reports, Plan B is to downsize into a national-only site and dump most local content providers, Mather and Hansmann will have done more damage to sports journalism than good. Just think: hundreds of capable writers left on the street in a dried-up industry.
Joe Davis, Dodgers broadcaster — Vin who? OK, I’m not ridiculous enough to go there, but four years after assuming the most daunting assignment in the history of sportscasting — replacing the god of all play-by-play gods — Davis has settled into a comfortable, entertaining mode in which L.A. audiences somehow don’t yearn for the legendary Vin Scully. Considering few gave him a chance to succeed, it’s a staggering accomplishment for Davis, who now mixes fun, knowledgeable banter with partner Orel Hershiser and produced his best work during a gripping Dodgers-Padres series. He even tells stories, as Scully did, and those only will enrich through time. From his small-town Michigan upbringing to the way he was discovered in his mid-20s by ESPN — working a handful of games for the Montgomery Biscuits in Double-A ball — Davis has a charming tale that suggests impending greatness. Just 33, he’s positioned to be the next commanding sports voice of his generation. And he has reached this level by following the advice of Scully, who told the Los Angeles Times in 2017: “My prayer for him, for anyone, is maybe the hardest thing — be yourself. For the 100 years he might be there, the big thing is to be yourself.” Davis won’t be there 100 years, but Dodgers fans have accepted him enough that 40 years is a possibility in the booth. Unless …
Joe Buck, “Jeopardy!’’ host — Like Aaron Rodgers, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric and half the free world, Buck has harbored a lifelong dream of hosting the game show. He’ll get his chance this summer, reports the New York Post. Given his entertainment chops and prominence in TV, the permanent gig might be his if he wants it. If so, Buck could remain in his primary roles as Fox’s lead NFL and Major League Baseball game-caller; as Rodgers recently pointed out in stumping for the job, “They film 46 days a year. I worked about six months out of the year this last year. I worked 187 days this year in Green Bay, which gives me another 178 or 179 days to film 46 episodes.’’ An NFL quarterback couldn’t make the logistics work, but Buck could if he gave up some duties in what has been a monstrously elaborate Fox schedule. See what I’m thinking here? Davis inherits those duties and slowly is groomed by the network as the next Buck, as Buck becomes the next Alex Trebek. Remember, Buck has had vocal cord issues and shouldn’t be overdoing his workload in his 50s. If you think this is me being crazy, check back at a future date.
Marc Silverman, ESPN Chicago — My former radio partner returned to the WMVP studios last week for the first time in 370 days. To no one’s surprise, knowing his positive grasp of life, he has taken the lead in an ongoing battle against a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Our uncommon talk-show pairing — he’s a passionate fan of Chicago sports; I’m a hard-core commentator who covers sports as an industry worth hundreds of billions — produced some of the station’s best ratings of the last two decades. The hope, Silverman told the Chicago Tribune, is that “in five years, I’ll be `cured.’ ‘’ A lot of people in that city are rooting for Silvy, just as he’ll keep rooting for the Cubs … and torching them when they stage a painful fire sale this summer.
Dan Dakich, realist — This item is worthy of bonus coverage. If he must be a misogynist and woke-basher, at least Dakich remains loyal to his personal life code. He knows ESPN will be dumping him as a college basketball analyst after an unfortunate Twitter beef with a female professor, but he’s not whining or protesting. Actually, he doesn’t care. Paraphrasing gonzo author Hunter S. Thompson, who once worked for ESPN.com and was allowed to write what he wanted, Dakich told the Indianapolis Star: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming `Wow! What a Ride!’ Continuing, he said, “Stand up. Stand up and stand out. If you have no enemies, you never stood for … I’ve got a ton of enemies and I love it.’’ He still has his afternoon show on an Indianapolis radio station … for now.
THEY DON’T GET IT
ESPN — So much for the perception — among fans, anyway — that insiders such as Adrian Wojnarowski and Adam Schefter are 24/7 gumshoe attack dogs, working and hyperventilating to make calls and break stories. Do you realize how many calls and texts come to them by design? Woodward and Bernstein, they are not. As industry people know, exclusives often are the result of wink-wink agreements between high-profile reporters and player agents, league/team executives and local beat-writing servants who pass along what they hear. ESPN blew its cover by voicing disappointment to a business partner, baseball analyst Alex Rodriguez, that he didn’t hand-deliver Wojnarowski a major scoop first reported by The Athletic: A-Rod and e-commerce titan Marc Lore have a tentative, $1.5-billion agreement to purchase the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. After Rodriguez was informed of the network’s dismay before a “Sunday Night Baseball’’ assignment, his representative sent a group e-mail to the A-Rod team, according to the New York Post: “Hi guys — we should save something for ESPN (instead of giving it to The) Athletic. ESPN mentioned to AR they wish Woj had the story — obviously not our call but next round it should be.” So, moving forward, The Athletic, the Minnesota media and other outlets have no chance when Team A-Rod persists in, say, quickly funneling the story to Wojnarowski when the sale is finalized. I’ll be impressed if The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski, who cracked the original story via his own sources, cuts through the Weasel Curtain and breaks more news on this topic. How petty of anyone at ESPN to whine through political channels instead of calling its stud NBA reporter with the truth: You got beat, Woj.
Shaquille O’Neal, TNT — If society is officiating inappropriate behavior in the 21st century, the rules should apply to all. What had been a heartwarming segment on “Inside the NBA’’ — an interview with WNBA hopeful DiDi Richards, who returned to basketball after suffering temporary paralysis in a collision with a Baylor teammate — spilled into a senseless interlude starring O’Neal in his own “Shaqtin’ a Fool’’ farce. When Richards’ mother, Ungeanetta, slipped behind her daughter to smile on camera, Shaq said, “I’ve got a new website called, `Damn yo mama fine.’ ‘’ If this was uttered in an office by a baseball executive, he’d be fired on the spot … yet O’Neal is allowed to hit on Richards’ mother on live TV amid laughter and no repercussions. Consider it another double standard in an ex-jock world.
The Athletic — In its precarious state, the site cannot afford journalistic lapses. As reporters Katie Strang and Brittany Ghiroli expose new layers of sexual harassment sins in Major League Baseball — specifically, within the management ranks of the New York Mets — the culture of the Chicago Cubs continues to be ignored. Again, is the site protecting The Great Theo Epstein? Strang and Ghiroli have framed since-dismissed general manager Jared Porter as part of the Mets debacle, but his transgression took place while working for the Cubs in 2016, when he sent lewd photographs to a female reporter. If The Athletic insists on scrutinizing Mets executive Sandy Alderson, new owner Steve Cohen and former owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon, why not Epstein? Same goes for the Cleveland Indians — if the site is probing executive Chris Antonelli and owner Larry Dolan about harassment allegations targeting ex-pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who eventually became manager of the Mets, why bypass Epstein and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts? Is The Athletic intimidated by Epstein’s ample influence in baseball circles, where he could be headed to franchise ownership or the future commissionership? Is he being protected as the sacred cow who ended longstanding curses in Wrigleyville and Boston? I ask because Jon Greenberg, the site’s editor-in-chief and columnist in Chicago, recently wrote a lengthy piece about Epstein and his charity. If he was able to quote Epstein extensively, couldn’t he have asked about Porter and what Epstein knew about the missteps of a protege who’d followed him from Fenway Park to Wrigley Field? Why the selective investigations at The Athletic? And if a probe of the Cubs, past and present, found nothing more than one rogue employee five years ago, then report those findings. The Athletic does too much good work to leave itself half-ass exposed.
Tim Bontemps, ESPN — I’ve dealt with colleagues who were — how do I put this politely? — a little nutty. Every morning before our ESPN show taping, a Chicago Sun-Times news columnist, Neil Steinberg, would swing by the sports-office studio just to be annoying, which required the editor-in-chief to come by one day and lead him away. Then there was my radio producer, Cliff Saunders, who kept wanting to put an obscure baseball executive on our show — and would get upset when I said no, to the point he pulled a fire extinguisher off the hallway wall. Bontemps joins this select club after losing his cool with teammate Brian Windhorst on ESPN’s “Hoop Collective’’ podcast. We all know Windhorst is a LeBron James honk from way back — their Akron days, actually. So when he continued to support James’ MVP candidacy, despite an ankle injury that has sidelined him for weeks, Bontemps should have shrugged it off as one man’s biased opinion. Instead, he grew very agitated, having recently polled more than 100 media members who favored Nikola Jokic because James and Joel Embiid have been injured. After Windhorst declined Bontemps’ suggestion to conduct the poll in the future, Bontemps snapped back, “OK, well, then maybe you should actually listen to people because you’re being a jackass.’’ A global pandemic continues to rage. Racial tensions still run deep amid the Minneapolis guilty verdict. The homeless struggle to survive. And Bontemps is calling Windhorst “a jackass’’ about an MVP poll. As I’ve always said, the media business is great. It’s some of the people in it who suck.
Gary Sheffield, slacker — Consider this a warning to media companies that assume athletes are essential to sports broadcasts. The former major-league slugger, whose time as a TNT studio analyst ended last year, admits now that he never followed baseball’s regular seasons and didn’t pay attention until his postseason duties kicked in. Seems Sheffield has hated the sport for a long time. “I’ll tell the secret now: I never watched the games during the season. I would get educated on it when I got there,’’ he told CBS Sports Radio. “It’s not something that I could watch … because I’d be a complainer. This is the first time I’ve ever said that out loud, but I’m just truly disappointed with what I watch.” Meaning, he withheld his disgust for the game so he could draw a paycheck. That’s known as stealing money. Nice hire, Turner Sports.
Peyton Manning, booth-averse TV guy — In his latest project that does not involve “Monday Night Football,’’ Manning will host the revived quiz show “College Bowl’’ this summer on NBC. That’s great, but I’m confused. He’s willing to host the new show and his own ESPN series, “Peyton’s Places,’’ while goofing off with Brad Paisley on numerous insurance commercials — but he keeps rejecting ESPN’s advances to join a MNF booth that craves his starpower and charisma. It can’t be money — DIsney engaged CBS in a bidding war for Tony Romo that resulted in a $180 million deal for an ex-quarterback never on Manning’s level. It can’t be workload — he merrily has taken on countless TV ventures when an MNF commitment would be once a week in the fall and early winter, with a few days of at-home preparation. So what’s the holdup? Disney/ESPN, as a new member of the NFL’s premium broadcasting club, was awarded future Super Bowls for the first time. Would that interest Manning? Probably not. Yes, yes. I know, I know. This is a Sixth Who Doesn’t Get It, but I just can’t help myself, like a bettor on a DraftKings app or Dave Portnoy looking for his next booty call.
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